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Truckers' strike triggers fuel shortage

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A group of union members representing striking truckers, left, and a transport ministry official, right, stand in a hallway, after their second attempt at resolving the ongoing strike ended in failure at Sejong Government Complex, Wednesday. Yonhap
A group of union members representing striking truckers, left, and a transport ministry official, right, stand in a hallway, after their second attempt at resolving the ongoing strike ended in failure at Sejong Government Complex, Wednesday. Yonhap

Negotiations between gov't, truckers' union falls through again

By Lee Kyung-min

A nationwide strike by the country's unionized truckers is causing some local petrol stations to run out of gasoline and diesel, according to the energy ministry, Wednesday, prompting owners of cars and buses to brace for a full-fledged fuel shortage next week.

Up to 80 percent of the cargo truckers who carry fuel provided by the top four local refiners ― SK Innovation, GS Caltex, S-Oil and Hyundai Oilbank ― are union members. Many have warned that a prolonged strike will lead to a short-term fuel shortage and overall price hikes.

The government and striking workers remain poles apart over the demands of union members seeking a permanent guarantee of a minimum wage. This difference was amplified by President Yoon Suk-yeol issuing an executive order, Tuesday, requiring striking truckers to return to work immediately, or face prosecution following a suspension and revocation of their driver's licenses.

The Fair Trade Commission (FTC), the country's antitrust agency, said reviews are underway to determine whether alleged acts of threat, intimidation and obstruction of business committed by union members in the past week violate the law. The agency's announcement last Tuesday was in direct reference to local media reports of non-union members being threatened by hardline unionists to join the collective action. Also reported were some non-union members who sought to transport goods being left unable to enter or leave shipment locations due to blockades set up by hardliners. Some claimed they were shot at by steel balls while trying to drive their trucks out of the premises. Unionized members have since denied their role or involvement in the alleged acts.

The county's industry and trade circles have estimated that at least 1 trillion won ($759 million) in losses has been incurred by key manufacturers as of Wednesday.

Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Lee Chang-yang, enters a local petrol station that ran out of fuel in Dongjak, Seoul, Wednesday. Yonhap
Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Lee Chang-yang, enters a local petrol station that ran out of fuel in Dongjak, Seoul, Wednesday. Yonhap

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said 23 local gas stations have run out of fuel, including 15 in Seoul, three in Gyeonggi Province, two in Incheon and three in South Chungcheong Province.

A total of 22 ran out of gasoline, whereas the remaining one was out of diesel.

The ministry said it plans to mobilize all possible efforts to supply fuel to the 23 gas stations as soon as possible, including hiring non-union truckers to transport fuel from refiners.

The country has only up to an eight-day supply of gasoline and 10-day supply of diesel, the ministry added.

Real-time gasoline supply and demand monitoring will be available on Opinet, a website operated by state-run Korea National Oil Corp.

Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Lee Chang-yang said the government is aware of the gravity of the fallout of the strikes resulting in a major inconvenience for the public.

"The government will take the sternest possible measures, including the expansion of the scope of the executive order to include those disrupting the refinery and petrochemical industries," he said at a local gas station that ran out of gasoline in Dongjak, Seoul, Wednesday.

Negotiations between the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and a group of striking truckers, Wednesday, ended in failure, the same outcome seen at the first attempt to resolve the issue two days earlier.

The union members said Wednesday's that talks did not make any progress from the one two days ago, criticizing the ministry for a "continued irresponsible" stance.

"We asked whether the government claims no responsibility whatsoever for the ongoing strike, to which the ministry has refused to answer," the members said in a statement.

The revised proposals the union members have prepared for today's negotiations were met with irresponsible repetitive rejection by the ministry, they added.

"The ministry says the issue should find a breakthrough at the National Assembly, which shows a stance of passing the buck that we deeply regret. We demand that the ministry resume talks with us after giving thoughtful consideration to the collective concerned voices of the striking members."

Minister of Land Infrastructure and Transport Won Hee-ryong said the government-union talks will not continue unless the union members halt attempts to diminish the importance of the presidential executive order.

"There will be no further discussion if the striking truckers continue to resort to 'reprehensible attempts' to undermine the executive order," he said during a briefing with a group of reporters at the Sejong Government Complex, Wednesday. "Any attempt to dodge legal responsibilities will be met with stern measures under the law," he said.

The government will consider scrapping the current law which guarantees a minimum wage, he added, if striking workers do not return to work immediately.

The minister said the collective action being railroaded despite tough current economic conditions has called into question whether the demands of unionized truckers are reasonable, adding that threats by striking workers to file an injunction to nullify the executive order lacks ground.

"An administrative order by definition is not subject to a judicial review and claiming otherwise is an attempt that is not only futile but misleading," he added. "The government will review all possible measures as to which due course of action should be next," the minister said.


Lee Kyung-min lkm@koreatimes.co.kr


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